Your hand is made up of 27 bones that all work together enabling you to carry out several tasks. When one or more of these bones break, it is referred to as a fracture. Contrary to popular belief, there is no difference between a bone break and a fracture; both result in an injury that requires immediate treatment and sometimes surgery. There are two types of fractures, a hairline fracture and a full fracture. A hairline fracture occurs when the bone has not broken into two pieces; a full fracture is a bone displacement when the bone breaks completely through. If not properly evaluated or treated, hand fractures can become more severe, further complicating the injury.
Fractures often occur when enough force is applied to the hand. This can occur in several ways. Dropping something on your hand, punching something hard enough, playing sports or even using your hands to break a fall are all common ways people sustain hand fractures.
There are several symptoms that you might experience with a hand fracture. Some fractures are quite obvious immediately following the injury; others require x-rays to determine if there is an injury present. If you notice any of the following symptoms after sustaining a blow to the hand, it is a good idea to consult your doctor or head to the emergency room if necessary:
The important thing, even if your hand feels fine, if it looks as though something is wrong it is best to have it evaluated.
The first thing that you need to do if you suspect a hand fracture or other injury is have it evaluated by a doctor. Adults and children have different bone consistency which results in the necessity for different types of evaluations. In hairline fractures and those that are known as simple breaks, resetting the bone and placing your hand in a splint or cast may be all that is necessary.
If your hand fracture results in a shattered bone or one that is awkwardly broken, you might need to have surgery to insert plates, pins or wires. Surgery, known as open reduction, is used to set the bone in place. It is not always necessary for the bone to be set exactly in place. However, if you have a specific type of hand fracture that disrupts the surface of one or more joints, known as articular fractures, the surgery will be more precise to smooth over the joint as best as possible.
Some surgical procedures involve a bone graft, where bones are taken from another area in your body to replace the ones in your hand. This happens in severe injuries where bones are completely shattered or if there is bone loss.
In the event that your hand fracture does require surgery, you can reasonably expect that you’ll be in a cast or split for several weeks following the procedure. The more severe the fracture, the longer you’ll remain in the cast or splint. The surgeon will give you specific instructions on how to care for your hand post-surgery. You’ll be seen a week after the procedure to ensure it is healing properly, and likely several times after.
Not all hand fractures will require physical therapy; hairline fractures and minor injuries that are solved by a split usually do not require extensive therapy. However, if there is joint stiffness after the injury has healed a physical therapist may be able to prescribe a treatment or exercise plan that helps alleviate the stiffness. In severe hand fractures, there may be loss of motion in which case your doctor will recommend physical therapy to regain that motion.
The recovery time varies between children and adults. As children heal quicker, recovery time for a simple fracture may be as little as a month. Adults can expect recovery to take several weeks to several months, depending on the nature of the injury. To prevent complications, follow your doctor or hand surgeon’s instructions as prescribed, especially following surgery.
Please call our office at (703) 574-2588 for more information, or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Fadi Nukta in Northern Virginia.